Taiwan tour bus crashes, killing all 26 on board

The bus, which was carrying tourists from mainland China, caught fire and crashed on its way to Taoyuan airport yesterday.
The bus, which was carrying tourists from mainland China, caught fire and crashed on its way to Taoyuan airport yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Trapped passengers in burning bus tried to break windows in bid to escape flames

TAIPEI • A Taiwan bus taking mainland Chinese tourists to the airport for their flight home caught fire and crashed yesterday, killing all 26 on board as desperate passengers struggled in vain to escape.

The disaster was the latest in a series that have called into question Taiwan's safety record.

Media footage showed that the bus, with flames shooting from the front, had rammed into an expressway barrier near Taipei.

The images showed thick plumes of smoke and burnt wreckage at the roadside.

A police spokesman said the bus had caught fire before it crashed into the barrier but gave no reason.

"All the people on the bus died," Mr Lin Kuan-cheng, spokesman for the National Fire Agency, told AFP.

The Liberty Times newspaper quoted an unnamed eyewitness as saying passengers were pounding the bus windows for help as the driver swerved sharply before the crash.

"At this stage it is still not clear why no passengers escaped from the bus."

The bodies of the victims remained inside the bus as police and prosecutors examined the site, said an AFP photographer at the scene.

One image in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper showed two men trying to smash the windows with fire extinguishers as the doors of the vehicle remained shut.

The Liberty Times newspaper quoted an unnamed eyewitness as saying passengers were pounding the bus windows for help as the driver swerved sharply before the crash.

A firefighter at the scene said there were no survivors still calling for help by the time they arrived.

The tour group of 24 people - three children, 15 women and six men - was from China's north-eastern city of Dalian, Taiwan's interior ministry said.

A Taiwanese driver and Taiwanese tour guide were also killed, the National Fire Agency confirmed.

The group was on its way to Taipei's main Taoyuan airport for a 4.30pm flight back to Dalian after an eight-day tour of the island. The accident happened shortly before 1pm.

Chinese tour groups have increasingly visited Taiwan in recent years after a boom in mainland tourism.

That was fostered by a rapprochement between the rivals under former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, who came to power in 2008 and left office in May.

There are fears that the industry may be hit after Beijing-sceptic Tsai Ing-wen won the presidency in January, amid reports that tourist numbers have dropped.

Taiwan's Cabinet spokesman Tung Chen-yuan said government officials dealing with tourism and China affairs had reached out to their mainland counterparts and that they would help arrange for relatives of the victims to come to Taiwan.

Several recent fatal accidents in Taiwan have led to safety probes.

The collapse of a residential block during an earthquake in Tainan in February, which left 115 dead, led to an investigation which showed that builders had cut corners.

In June last year, coloured cornstarch sprayed over crowds at a water park party near Taipei ignited due to the heat of stage lights, killing 15 and injuring more than 500. The organiser of the event was jailed for negligence.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwan tour bus crashes, killing all 26 on board'. Print Edition | Subscribe